He is sitting outside on the leather couch in the scorching desert heat. He is talking to himself, laughing. He hardly takes time for a drag from his cigarette. There is a chocolate drink in his hand, that he has forgotten about. When the gates to his brain are not fully shut like right now, his thoughts flood the cactus garden in front of him: his four brothers, the summer he taught tennis on Long Island, his time at Ralph Lauren, his mushroom trips with Frank in the California desert, the poems he wrote and now has a hard time reciting by heart, the months that were wrenched from him as a Mormon missionary in Idaho. The forty year old long-term memory forces itself into sentences without beginning or end. Most of the time he is amused by it. He has not cried over it in a long time. The voices in his head no longer make him paranoid, and if they do, just mildly. He has gotten used to them in the two years and has made his peace with them.

Today he even notices Little Bear. The dog is taking position in front of him, begging for attention. It has become rare that she even tries. There is no point to it, she has learned. But today there’s hope, the animal senses, and she is briefly being tapped on her head.

I’m observing Jackson from the side. He is especially handsome today. Although he’s dirty, his hair is up in a Mohawk because he spends a lot of time in bed, and he can’t be bothered with shaving, his beauty hasn’t vanished. It has changed, it seems deeper now that it’s crackled here and there, but it’s still one of the first things both women and men notice about him.

]I like the detours through the geography of his life. I now sit with him whenever he is talkative. Now I’m the only person who finds her way through this jungle and who can put all these single pieces of the puzzle into something whole, something that makes sense. I am also the only person who still tries. On one of these detours I’ve taken up smoking again. Just to share something with him, to head outside to the couch together for a cigarette break, to walk these few steps, to hand over the pack, to light each other’s cigarette and to slide the ashtray closer. It’s been a while since he has given up eating. I haven’t stopped suggesting certain dishes. I like the everyday quality of the question. Every time his No sounds like it is the first one and only temporary in nature. When he is not laying on his bed, I’m eating next to him. From the couch the view drifts over the barren mountains to the north; they cast red shadows on the other side of the highway in the early morning hours. At night you can see the few and far between lights of Joshua Tree seven miles to the west. Further away, in a north-easterly direction, there are more glaring lights: it’s the Twentynine Palms Marine Base. After September 11, 2001, access to it has become almost impossible, and since the war started I’m no longer toying with the idea of a sightseeing tour in my neighbor’s ice cream truck, posing as her employee.

We rarely sit on the back terrace these days, it’s too far away from the bedroom. It is big, the size of an outdoor restaurant patio. In the hot desert nights we can see the full moon rising over the rocks of the National Park from here. The white desert sands illuminate the cacti, the coyotes and the desert tortoises from underneath. Joshua Tree National Park starts right here. The dirt road, that goes off Highway 62, ends at the house. No one will be able to squeeze in between me and the mountains in the future. That and the five acres which the house sits on, secure enough privacy for eternity. My eternity anyway. We only come out to the back terrace at night now, when I can sidetrack Jackson on his way to the refrigerator by promising him a fat full moon. Or late in the afternoon, when this side of the house is a few degrees cooler. Sidetracking doesn’t always work. Dementia and change don’t go together well. For him, it’s hard enough to decide on a drink. The high calorie beverage selection got bigger a few days ago. Next to his chocolate drink there is now apple juice, Starbucks Mocca Frappuccino, Coke and Dr. Pepper.  It’s easier for him to make up his mind when he stands in front of the fridge than when I tell him what we have. The list tends to be too long for his brain. After a long pause, and after asking me to repeat the selection a few times, he usually chooses something from the end of the list. Mocca Frappuccino is his favorite, but he only picks it when he sees it. He can no longer associate the name with the bottle.

A few days ago Jackson’s father, John, brought the last two boxes of Jackson’s belongings, that he had found going through his garage in Gallup, New Mexico. There are clothes in one box, and old photos, letters, the 1982 yearbook of Gallup High, and a few typewritten pages with poems in the other. I quickly run over the pages with the poems. At first sight there seems to be nothing that I have not collected and archived before. I put the pages, the photos and the letters together; I will go through everything later. While I unpack the clothes box, a leather jacket catches my eye. I try it on and I imagine how I will wear the jacket after Jackson’s death. It fits perfectly. Even though he is thin, he is wider than me although I’m more curved. He’s not even dead yet and you are already grazing his things, I think to myself, that is so wrong. I let the thought go. It’s OK to try the jacket on and to like it; I will wear it like body armor. I’m looking at the three pairs of jeans in the box. Levi’s 32/34 – that’s very good. He needs tighter pants. Two months ago I had bought him three pairs of jeans 33/34. Yesterday I took them all in. A size 32/34 fits perfectly now, even with diapers.